'I cried tears of happiness': Cree student bakes for prime minister's family

Baking student Erica Gilpin was invited by Algonquin College to bake for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa this week. 'I kept thinking, is this real? Is this real that I am here?' she said.

Erica Gilpin got a reference from Justin Trudeau's chef after baking gluten-free granola bars for the family

Erica Gilpin (middle) with the prime minister's chef, Neil Dhawan (right), and his assistant. Gilpin baked gluten-free granola bars for the Trudeau family in Ottawa this week. (submitted by Erica Gilpin)

When Erica Gilpin's late gookum*, or grandmother, jokingly told her in Cree that "perhaps someday you will cook for the prime minister," they both laughed as they prepared bannock together over the fire.

But that's exactly what happened earlier this week. Gilpin, who's from the northern Quebec Cree community of Wemindji, had the opportunity to bake goodies for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa.

"I cried so much as I was driving home because I suddenly remembered that moment with her," Gilpin said in an interview in Cree this week.

"She must be so proud of me right now and laughing away."

Gilpin, a second year student in baking and pastry at Algonquin College in Ottawa, received the invitation from the college to help prepare a meal at the prime minister's residence.

She made gluten-free granola bars for the Trudeau family and tart shells for a garden party event.

Gilpin says she felt overwhelmed by the experience.

"I kept thinking, is this real? Is this real that I am here?"

A great reference

After the meal was prepared, Trudeau's chef, Neil Dhawan, sent Gilpin a letter of appreciation. He thanked Gilpin for her help and wished her the best of luck.

"It was a pleasure working with you. You have a good work ethic and great eye for detail. If there is anything I can do for you, please don't be shy," the letter read.

"It was a surprise," Gilpin said. "I never thought I would get a reference letter from the prime minister's chef."

On Wednesday, she was back at 24 Sussex Drive (where the meals are still prepped, though the Trudeaus live in Rideau Cottage) helping the family chef. Next week she will assist the Rideau Hall executive chef, Louis Charest, at the Governor General's residence.

"I cried tears of happiness," Gilpin said. "Knowing that my children will look up to me, and that I worked so hard for this."

* Note: "gookum" is the preferred spelling of "grandmother" by Cree in northern Quebec. Kookum or kuukum is more common among Plains Cree speakers.